Six months have passed since the first reading of an Iraqi Anti-Trafficking in Persons Draft Law in Iraq. A major parliamentary political rift, deterioration in security, continuation of arbitrary detentions and other worrying events have shaped the life of Iraqis in these six months.
Amid all this, the security forces have managed to arrest several gangs specialized in abducting women and children for the purpose of trafficking in human organs. The gangs are detained, but how are they being prosecuted in court in the absence of an anti-trafficking in persons law that should govern such cases?
On July 12th, 2011 the Iraqi Parliament held a first reading of the draft Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law. Shortly thereafter, a second reading followed. Some civil society organizations were motivated to participate in pushing forward the Law. Yet, it is still a draft.
One argument could be that more important issues are currently at stake, most notably the political crisis and the increase in violence. However despite the chaotic atmosphere, human rights laws, especially those that provide more protection to women and children by imposing severe punishments to deter the perpetrators should not be neglected.
Iraq’s Penal Code No. 111 of 1969 included trafficking in women and children as well as the White Slave Trade (the interstate transport of women for “immoral purposes”)[i] as crimes punished by the law (Article No. 13)[ii]. The fines imposed on such crimes were increased by Law No. 6 of 2010, given the substantial inflation of the Iraqi Dinar in the interim, to ensure these fines play a genuine deterrent role. Yet in the absence of a specialized law to enable the prosecutors to define the crime as trafficking in persons, perpetrators might not receive the necessary punishments.
On January 15th, 2012 al-Sumaria News quoted the spokesperson of Baghdad Operations as confirming “the arrest of a gang engaged in armed robbery that also abducts children east of Baghdad”. The news agency stated that “the kidnapping of children has become a phenomenon in many Iraqi governorates, where children are used by the gangs in many illegal ways, including trafficking in human organs.” Earlier in June 2011, the Anti-Terrorism Unit also announced the arrest of a gang made up of 34 persons specialized in abducting women and children for the purpose of trafficking in human organs. In between, the security forces managed to arrest several additional gangs and individuals who have made the abduction of women and children a profitable business. Despite the presence of some relevant articles in the Penal Code as mentioned above, no reports were issued on the trial of these gangs. Again, in the absence of an Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, on what basis can such defendants be prosecuted in the court room?
Several Arab countries have already joined the fight against trafficking by issuing relevant laws with sever punishments and high fines. Those who didn’t were called on by the Second Doha Forum on Combating Human Trafficking, held in Qatar on January 16th and 17th, to issue anti-trafficking in persons laws since this crime has become a phenomenon in the region, where the most vulnerable such as women and children are the victims.
One expert from the Arab League speaking before the Forum said that trafficking in persons is interlinked with many other crimes, but statistics are lacking on the number of victims. Indeed, the number of victims worldwide is only an estimation, even by the most specialized agencies. Few statistics are available because this is a clandestine industry, where victims end up too traumatized and stigmatized to let anyone learn about the events they’ve experienced, not to mention those who end up dead.
The Human Trafficking Case Law Database of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website, shows the number of cases in Iraq as zero[iii]. However this doesn’t mean that there is no trafficking in persons in Iraq, rather that no criminals were prosecuted as traffickers for the lack of legal grounds to prosecute them as such.
For any country to effectively combat trafficking in persons, a solid legal framework is a prerequisite. The participation of civil society is generated by the type of services they usually provide to the victims, including providing shelter, medical and psychosocial support, integration and/or repatriation assistance. However such Civil Society participation as well as prevention, protection and prosecution,[iv] by the state and others are made nearly impossible without the necessary legal framework.
Al-Qaem border crossing is still closed.
A pregnant Syrian woman died on Monday September 3rd, at the Syrian side of Al-Qaem border crossing point. A day earlier 3 young boys, suffering injuries also died. The children arrived at the border three days previously, already suffering injuries. The stranded Syrians, including the pregnant woman who needed assistance as she was about to give birth, received no assistance from the Iraqi side, while the border remains closed, reported al-Anbar NGOs Council.
In a separate incident, one child died on September 2nd, also on the Syrian side where the refugees are still stranded. Apparently the child suffered an asthma case during a sand storm.
Al-Qaem border crossing has been closed since 16 August and there has been no increase in the number of Syrian refugees, which remains at 15,898 according to UNHCR (28 Aug 2012).
According to local NGOs, a total of 350-400 Syrian families are stranded on the Syrian side of this border. The refugees were trying to enter Iraq, fleeing the violence in the Syrian city of Der El-Zur when the Iraqi side closed the border and erected concrete barriers (4 meters high and 40 meters wide) on the morning of August 21st, to block the entry of Syrian refugees. The move was criticized by Iraq's parliamentary human rights committee, and described as a move against human rights principles.
On September 3rd, Al-Jazeera reported “al-Qaem border crossing is expected to be re-opened by the Iraqi authorities as soon as a new camp is established as the first one is already fully occupied.” Indeed, a new camp is currently under construction.
While the Al-Waleed and Rabiya border crossing points remain open UNHCR is advocating with the government that the Al-Qaem border be reopened. The Kurdistan Regional Government re-opened its borders to allow the entry of Syrian refugees two days after closing the borders, according to a security source in Duhok quoted by Radio Nawa. The source confirmed on September 2nd, that the decision to close the border crossing was taken as a security measure. Tens of Syrians entered the KRG through the Fishkhabour crossing point on the Syrian-Iraqi borders as soon as it was re-opened.
Al-Qaem Camp – Needs Registered
The Al-Qaem camp hosts almost 2,000 refugees and is being expanded. Another 1,700 refugees staying in schools are expected to be relocated to the camp very soon to allow classes to resume, according to UNHCR. In Al-Qaem, an Emergency Coordination Cell has been established by the Iraqi Government to plan for the movement of all Syrians who sought refuge in Anbar (mostly hosted in schools) to the UNHCR refugee camp, 5 km from Al-Qaem. The process has already started.
One international NGO and the Love and Peace Forum (a National NGO) visited the border city on Thursday 30 August 2012. Meetings were held with the representative of the Ministry of Displacement and Migration Mr. Salam Khafaji, UNHCR and Islamic Relief staff who are managing the camp.
Both NGOs conducted a needs assessment at Al-Qaem Camp that is hosting the Syrian refugees and visited the location where the new camp is currently under construction to receive the increasing numbers of refugees.
According to the Love and Peace Forum, the needs at the current camp included:
- Children and enfant milk;
- Children food supplements (soup and wheat);
- Drinking water;
- Medical treatment (chronic diseases);
- Additional sanitation facilities;
- Cookers to go along with the food baskets that will be distributed soon, replacing the hot meals distribution system.
- Winter clothes.
For their part, the Syrian refugees in Al-Qaem camp voiced frustration of their situation, saying that the inconvenient conditions they have to endure will dissuade other Syrians from seeking refuge in the Iraqi territories.